Charolotte – NC. The Latin American Coalition (“La Coalicion”) submits this comment on rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements, DHS Docket No. USCIS-2021-0010, proposed on January 4, 2023.1 La Coalicion has a series of concerns related to how this rule, if implemented in its current iteration, will limit access to citizenship, permanent residency, and other immigration benefits.
The Latin American Coalition is an organization that promotes immigrant rights, based on a model of democracy and community participation in North Carolina.
This organization was created to establish new opportunities and give Hispanics a voice, creating learning spaces where they can connect with the community.
We have developed a multifaceted approach to promote justice and equity, we build alliances with other organizations and serve as a bridge to help each Hispanic who requests our support.
We address the causes of exclusion towards Hispanics and promote constructive solutions that support inclusive and equitable policies.
Since its founding in 1990, La Coalicion has advocated for affordability for immigration benefits, including successfully advocating USCIS for policies on fee waivers and reduced fees for naturalization applications. Over the last several years, we have submitted several public comments recommending the maintenance and expansion of fee waivers, and warning that proposed fee increases will reduce immigrants’ ability to obtain immigration benefits based on class and a lack of disposable income.2 La Coalicion has also made several recommendations on how to reduce administrative barriers that unnecessarily burden USCIS staff and the adjudication process.3 As a coalition that mostly consists of organizations that offer direct legal services to low-income communities, we know firsthand that even the smallest increases to immigration application fees can have the effect of limiting a family’s ability to afford those applications. In general and through the proposed fee schedule rule, USCIS should not only preserve but expand access that low-income and working-class immigrants have to naturalization and immigration benefits for which they are eligible.
I. Several of the Proposed Rule’s Fee Increases Will Effectively Limit Access to Citizenship, Permanent Residency, and Other Immigration Benefits
La Coalicion has deep concerns that the fee increases proposed for naturalization, permanent residency, employment authorization, waiving grounds of inadmissibility, and other immigration benefits, even with the proposed expansion of fee exemptions, will price out low-income and working-class immigrants, having the effect of delaying or preventing individuals and families from obtaining the immigration relief for which they are eligible.
For several years, La Coalicion has advocated for reducing administrative barriers that not only make it more difficult for immigrants to access benefits, but also task USCIS staff with unnecessary administrative burdens when adjudicating applications, such as longer forms, social media vetting, and unnecessary interviews, biometrics requirements, and Requests for Evidence, which USCIS itself cites as causes or likely causes for inefficiencies in this proposed rule.4 We have prioritized successful advocacy for Congressional funding to improve USCIS’ financial standing, including funding for USCIS backlog reduction efforts.
La Coalicion credits USCIS for shifting away from the beneficiary-pays model used in the 2020 fee schedule rule and instead using a balance between the beneficiary-pays model and the ability-to-pay model, and acknowledges the delicate balance that USCIS seeks to strike in this proposed rule. We also credit USCIS for citing NPNA and collective advocacy during previous proposed rules and public comment periods, and for citing Executive Order 14012: Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans (“E.O. 14012”) as a policy reason for keeping certain proposed fee increases lower than what it would otherwise have been.5 Other changes in this proposed rule, such as the codification of current fee waivers and expansion of fee exemptions are positive steps.
However, we also know that a $35 increase to naturalization (Form N-400), a $1,595 increase for a person applying for permanent residence and interim benefits (Forms I-485, I-765, and I-131), a $155 increase for someone applying for employment authorization (Form I-765), a $515 increase for someone seeking to remove conditions on residence (Form I-751), and a $390 increase to waive grounds of inadmissibility based on unlawful presence (Form I-601A), among other proposed increases, will simply price out low-income and working class communities from benefits for which they are eligible. This is especially true if USCIS does not accompany these increases with an expansion of fee waiver eligibility.